This is possibly my favourite photo of the day.
Lunch ingredients were mainly freshly picked from the garden outside the house and they were all prepared using the one utensil – a battered old chopper. Two floorboards were lifted and the unwanted scraps (and there weren’t many) were thrown between them, which really confused us. Our guests must have perceived our confusion and called us over to look – beneath the floorboards were two pigs in their pen and this was their lunch! The open fire was started almost in the middle of the room and, seemingly, directly on top of the floorboards. The fuel for the fire was wood, the floorboards were made of wood, the entire house was made of wood!! – probably there wasn’t a Health and Safety Officer within 200 miles and nobody batted an eyelid!
At times, either just one, or communally all, the family took turns to cook the meal. This time of food preparation was such an obviously essential part of the family social bonding that we felt more comfortable, yet privileged, sitting on the other side of this large room and watching proceedings from afar.
For the photographically technically minded of you, this image was very difficult to capture well. The room was very dark, but small windows were throwing a very contrasting light across the scene. Within the scene, I wanted to capture the light of the fire, the smoke, an impression of the pots and some of the features of the chef. The photo was taken using an Olympus OMD with a 75mm (150mm equivalent focal length) lens. I used Manual mode, auto focus, ISO 1600, f1.8 and 1/125 shutter speed. I was trying to expose correctly for the area around the fire, which produced a dark image out of the camera. Some judicious use of Photoshop has helped lighten up the rest of the image and remove an otherwise distracting area of brightness.
Over the course of our time in the house, various family members and friends came and went – whether it was curiosity to see the foreigners, or safety in numbers for the all-female-family with myself as an unknown male quantity in the house, or just an everyday desire to help out when cooking and entertaining were in progress, I’ll never know. However, the atmosphere was always friendly, genial, helpful and a pleasure to observe.
Our 42-year-old saviour lady (still clinging on to my wife’s arm) is on the left, her sister is on the right and obviously granddaughter is in the middle
This is the 14-month-old Granddaughter of the Yao lady that helped my wife out of the ravine after she had fallen off the footpath. The child’s mother was not living in the village having moved away to the ‘big city’ (we thought it was Guangdong) in an attempt to earn more money and ‘improve the lot’ of her family. As is often the way in these very traditional cultures, the family is one big extended unit that all rally together to support each other and this child was obviously being supported by Great-Grandmother, Grandmother, Great-Aunts and other various family members. However, given the previous centuries of traditional, hard working life in these very agricultural and subsistence-level-living villages, we felt the decision of the child’s mother to move to the city in these times of Chinese economic boom was probably being repeated a million times over across the rest of Country. What the future holds for these very traditional farming cultures remains to be seen, but their continued existence in their present form seems very tenuous.
The most poignant aspect of the photo above is that the child is actually holding a photograph of its own mother. The photograph had just been given to her by her grandmother and this was the child’s immediate reaction. When you know that and the story of the mother, it makes it quite an emotional image.
On arrival at our saviour’s house, we were introduced to the female members of the family – we saw no males whatsoever. In respectful seniority order (which we understand is very much part of the Yao culture) it is elders first. This is our saviour’s mother. It was very difficult to judge ages, but from what we gathered about ages of other members of the family, I would guess her age as early to mid-sixties.
Having politely declined the services of one very persistent Yao lady, within half an hour – and at the junction of two paths, we came across another; sat by the wayside in her full traditional, bright red and black costume. (Had she been the recipient of the previous lady’s phone call as we left her a little while ago, we wondered cynically?) This lady’s approach was a lot more subtle; without saying a word, she just started following us at a non-interfering, but gradually closer and closer distance.
At the point where she got to within a few metres of us, we were coming down a steepish section where the path was a series of wet stones. Mrs Daybydaybyphoto chose this particular moment to slip on an indecently treacherous rock and, with a yelp that had me turned around sharpish, disappeared down the gulley/ravine that bordered the path – as being pointed out subsequently in the photo below:
Stopped from falling any further by the dense vegetation and the braking action of her backpack/umbrella combination, she ended up with her head a couple of metres below the level of the path. I’m not sure who got to her first, the Yao lady or myself, but between the two of us we had her hauled back up onto the path pretty quickly. A quick inspection revealed no more damage to my wife than a few scrapes and bruises, an impressive collection of mud splatterings, a large slice of embarrassment and the presence of the biggest, ugliest, most poisonous looking caterpillar I’ve ever seen, perched on her umbrella and hastily dispatched by the Yao lady………who then was in full flow……she showed us to a stream where she helped clean up my wife’s muddier parts, insisted on guiding my wife by the arm as we hiked further along the path and told us we really ought to come and eat at her house which just happened to be in our intended destination, Zhongliu village, now only 20 minutes away. All this was communicated in some rudimentary, but impressive English and French on her behalf and basic sign language between all 3 of us. We accepted her invite with some trepidation, but it was the best decision of the day.
Here’s my wife and her ‘saviour’ in the village of Zhongliu:
And here we are approaching her house along a path through her ‘garden’:
As a taster of what is to come over the next few blog entries, this one will conclude with an image of the inside of the house.
Having decided to head off towards the village of Zhongliu, we left behind the wide open vistas across valleys and entered a much more intimate landscape. Small hamlets were tucked into the folds of the land:
And the path itself neatly meandered between the layers of the rice terraces:
Small details of the landscape became more readily visible; a previous post featuring a butterfly was taken along this section of the path, a snake slithered across the path in front of me before I could get my camera out and splashes of colour punctuated the vast canvas of green ripening rice.
In the Ping An area, the local people were from the Zhuang Ethnic Minority, but as we left the second viewpoint and headed for Zhongliu, we entered an area more inhabited by the Yao. One elderly local lady in traditional costume followed us for 15 or 20 minutes, desperately trying to ‘sell’ us her services as guide, porter, photographic model….anything she could think of in fact. Eventually, without being too rude, we managed to convince her that we didn’t require any of her multiple talents and left her at the side of the path – incongruously with a mobile phone glued to the side of her head. It was not to be our last encounter, thankfully, with a fellow member of her ethnicity.
The second viewpoint we arrived at on our day’s hike at the Longjii Rice Terraces was called Nine Dragons and Five Tigers. The scale of these terraces is truly impressive: built some 500 years ago, they only produce one rice harvest per year and all the rice is kept for use by the people who grow it – none of it is sold. Interspersed with the rice terraces are patches of corn and other vegetable crops; it is very much subsistence farming. The village at the heart of this particular area of terraces is called Ping An; it is the largest of the local villages and the most commercialised. Hotels, restaurants and gift shops vie for space on the steep slopes with the villagers homes, but thankfully all are constructed in a sympathetic, local style. Our route from the previous viewpoint took us through this village and we were able to watch a bit of everyday life being played out
The local school is through the blue gates at the end of the street.
Restaurants abound….The staple dish, unsurprisingly, is rice and vegetables
Fast food in this part of the world is rice and a little meat, packed into a bamboo stick and barbecued. The bamboo sticks are plugged at either end and occasionally plunged into buckets of water to stop the rice burning – I’ve no idea how they judge when it is necessary!
Once out of the village, and whenever the weather allowed, we returned to a world of expansive vistas.
With harvest time approaching within the next few weeks, we were surprised to see so few people actually working in the fields. I can only presume that by now, all the hard work was either done, or about to commence,
After coffee at Nine dragons and Five Tigers, we had initially thought we would head back down – the weather wasn’t great and we’d had dire warnings from another European family about the dangers of getting lost in the mist on the indistinct path system that led over to the next village. However, the weather wasn’t getting any worse and, as far as we could see, the path looked pretty obvious. Normally in these circumstances it is me who is the keener to continue, but today it was Mrs Daybydaybyphoto who wanted to ‘look around the next corner’ or ‘peek over the next little rise’, so we decided to continue on for a while……….to be continued……